Former S.C. schools superintendent Mick Zais narrowly was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Zais, a retired Army brigadier general and former Newberry College president, served a single term as S.C. schools superintendent.
Zais' nomination, by President Donald Trump, to be the No. 2 executive in the Education Department, under Secretary Betsey DeVos, was approved by the Senate 50-48.
"I’m very pleased and proud the Senate has finally confirmed Mick Zais to serve as the deputy secretary of Education," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "He believes in a strong public education system with flexibility and will be a valuable ally to Secretary DeVos."
Zais stirred Democratic opposition, in part, because — like DeVos — he is a strong advocate of school choice, which Democrats fear is a euphemism for favoring private, parochial and charter schools at the expense of public education.
Zais' tenure as S.C. education superintendent, from 2011 to 2015, also was marked by controversy. He elicited an outcry and threats of a lawsuit from the State Board of Education for refusing to apply for various federal public education grant programs.
"More federal money for education will not solve our problems," Zais said, announcing South Carolina would not compete for some of the $200 million offered to states as part of then-President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative.
Zais also refused to accept $144 million in federal money to help retain S.C. public school teachers.